An efficient complaints system empowers us to improve services, says Healthwatch England’s chair
At Healthwatch we love complaints. Not just because we want to know when things go wrong, but because we understand that complaints help us learn how to improve.
In general we believe complaints and feedback are key to improving health and social care services so that they better meet the needs, preferences and expectations of users.
We recently heard that the number of complaints about the NHS is on the rise, suggesting people are more confident in speaking up when they fail to receive the quality of care they are entitled to. This is a good thing in our book – more complaints should mean better services.
Yet our research shows almost two-thirds of people who receive poor care don’t complain. In the past two years we think more than 500,000 incidents of poor care went unrecorded.
This is because people don’t know how to complain, who to complain to or in some circumstances are scared of repercussions. One of the solutions to this is a better known and more widely available advocacy service.
Of course the recent figures relate to health; a sector where people have a statutory advocacy service to turn to. The same is not true in social care – here there is more limited support and it is not standardised.
We know that some councils go beyond their statutory responsibilities and offer direct help, often with the voluntary sector. But this is not the case everywhere and there is a real danger that increasing financial pressure will put even these limited services at risk.
Yet advocacy is, if anything, even more important in social care than in health. People using social care services are often treated at home or in a residential setting, which can make it very intimidating for them to raise concerns. Very often, the only people to complain to are directly involved in delivering care.
Nor do people know about their options. Local Healthwatch bodies tell us that care homes don’t always do a good job of informing residents about how to complain.
What’s the solution? Should there be a statutory duty placed on councils to commission independent advocacy for social care? How important would it be that such services covered both health and care and what would the resourcing implications be?
We want to know what you think to help us shape a vision for complaints that will ensure people’s experiences are listened to and used to ensure the system learns from its mistakes.
Anna Bradley, chair, Healthwatch England